Three artists parted ways on mobilization day: André Derain (1880-1954) and the two inventors of cubism, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963). The neutral Spaniard saw the two Frenchmen off on a train for the front, but did not enlist himself. While Picasso’s interest in the war focused on his friends who were mobilized, killed, wounded or maimed – like Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), whose portrait he painted as an artilleryman, then wounded –, he focused above all on his work, between cubism, pointillism and a certain tendency for neo-classicism which in 1919 was called a “return to order”.

Cubism and the War

At the start of the war, cubism was incorrectly perceived as a German invention and scorned as “kubist Kultur”, partly because Picasso’s art dealer was the German Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) who was forced to flee to Switzerland. And yet cubism and its fragmentation of pictorial space – like all of the modernisms, futurism and vorticism – influenced camouflage. According to Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), when Picasso saw the first camouflaged canons in Paris, he exclaimed, “we created that”.[1] In Rome, where he went with Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), Picasso worked as a set painter on the ballet Parade choreographed by Léonide Massine (1896-1979) for Serge Diaghilev’s (1872-1929) Russian ballet, set to music by Eric Satie (1866-1925). On 18 May 1917, Parade premiered at the Châtelet theatre in Paris, but the avant-gardism of the whole show and of Picasso’s cubist masks more particularly enraged the audience. He went back to Harlequins – perhaps the camouflage in his own war.

Annette Becker, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense

Section Editor: Emmanuelle Cronier

Translator: Jocelyne Serveau